Holy moly, Toronto is expensive. Who knew that and didn’t tell me before I moved here? I’m just kidding, I knew it was going to cost me some serious cash to live + work + breathe in this city. Maybe you are like me and have student loans + a deep fondness for oysters, or maybe you just want to save because that’s the reasonable and mature thing to do if you have the means. Toronto is expensive, but here are my tips for when you’re inevitably here and aren’t leaving and want to avoid overdraft fees.
This is part 1 – eating in Toronto on a budget.
Finished purging your closet and now you’re resolving to meal prep all your lunches for the week? It makes a real difference to your final bill when you plan what meals you’re going to make and consult the flyers before setting foot in the grocery store. Loblaws is the closest grocery store to us but it’s certainly not the cheapest. We tend to check Flipp before planning the shopping so we know what’s on sale where (which also influences what we’re making that week). Things that we use lots of (olive oil, peanut butter, greek yogurt, parm) goes onto a “check for sales” list so that we can stock up when it’s cheaper.
Hot tip: Shoppers Drug Mart’s sale schedule front loads their good egg/cream/milk deals to the weekends only so plan accordingly!
We get most of our produce from Bloor Fruit Market since they have better prices and larger greens than the grocery stores. The quality is usually pretty good but sometimes it’s best if you pick up your veg closer to when you will be cooking it.
This is much more doable during the summer but Toronto has tons of great farmers markets for fresh produce that supports local farms. My faves include:
- $5 produce bags from Moss Park Market. Each bag has a variety like 2 bell peppers, a bunch of kale, some potatoes, some tomatoes which is great if you’re just cooking for 1 or 2 people. You can also donate $5 to pay a bag forward for someone else.
- Trinity Bellwoods Farmers Market
- Dufferin Grove Farmers Market
- Here’s a full list of Toronto farmers markets, where they are, and when they’re open if you want to peruse and explore.
A personal work in progress spreadsheet I have going on is a comparison list of our most common foodstuffs and whether or not we should bother buying from Bulk Barn or the grocery store. An incredibly specific and petty example – red lentils are $0.35/100g at Bulk Barn, but $0.33/100g at Loblaws. Okay, that wasn’t the best example but you’ll see!!! You’ll all see (when I finalize the spreadsheet)!!!
I try like, moderately hard, not to eat out all the time. It’s difficult when you live downtown, to say the least. When we successfully meal prep on weekends and ensure that the fridge is stocked, resisting the temptation of street meat at lunch is pretty easy. But sometimes if we get too busy to prep lunches, I am at the mercy of any and all foods in the core. Also sometimes you want to hang out with your friends or go for a nice date night! I am not here to judge, I am just here to pass on links + tips.
- Ritual. This is for picking up your own food. Order from your desk/bed/wherever you are and the app will tell you when you should leave to go get your food while factoring in the walk time. You should basically be able to stroll right on in, grab your food, and skip the whole lunchtime line situation. As for the saving part, many places have exclusive deals for your first order, like $4 for a sandwich that is normally $10. It’s great if you don’t eat out that frequently because you can likely subsist on those great deals alone. It’s also great if you do eat out often and don’t plan to stop because you get points for each order which can be redeemed for discounts. PS if you sign up through this link we both get $10.
- Feedback. Also for picking up your own food. Their main goal is to help restaurants waste less food by offering discounts on a select number of items from their menus during off-peak times, even up to 50%. Some places offer a moderate discount throughout the day even lunchtime, so 15% is still better than 0% if you’re going to have to buy your lunch instead of packing it! They’re also partnered with Second Harvest and every time you order, they match a portion of what you pay which goes towards meals for others in need. PS if you use the code VJIANCA8 on your first order we both get $3 off.
- MealPal. Super picking up your own food. My coworkers rave about this but I personally haven’t tried it yet. It’s basically a subscription lunch service best suited for people who usually buy their lunches anyway. You sign up for a package (either 12 or 20 lunches in a 30-day window), and each morning you can choose where you want to get your lunch from + reserve it. Would work best if you work in the Financial/Entertainment Districts based on their coverage map. The anecdotal feedback I’ve heard on this includes: not super flexible if you have lunch meetings that pop up, also not as vegetarian-friendly as you would hope (no substitutions on the dishes for MealPal), and the size of your meal can really vary (a small bowl vs a full personal sized pizza) depending on where you go that day. Hot tip: don’t purchase your package right away, if you only input your email they’ll follow up with discount offers so their already pretty impressive promise of $7 per meal gets knocked down to $4.49 per meal!
- If you’re more of a fast food kind of person, make sure you’re at least getting the most value for your money (besides the value menu). Download the McDonald’s app for their exclusive mobile coupon offers (this is the most on-brand recommendation I’ve done all post). Stuff like $3 Filet-o-Fishes, free fries, and $2 6-pack nuggets!!! A&W also does pretty good deals but you have to sign up for an account to receive + redeem the meals.
- My fave cheap eats: $5 Taiwanese fried chicken on Mondays at Soso Food Club, $6 all you can eat pierogies at Tennessee Tavern on Sunday nights, $5 tater tots at Pennies, $4.50 pork belly baos at Banh Mi Boys, $8 lunch specials at Ethiopian House, and $5 polish sausages from Mike’s Hotdogs at King + John. Yes, I have a favourite hot dog cart in the city, who doesn’t???
- Personally untested but beloved by others + on my list: Lasa by Lamesa, Annabelle Pasta Bar (they post 3 different $11 pasta dishes each night), and Manpuku.
There’s so much to eat in Toronto so keeping an eye on your budget can be difficult! Hopefully one of my hot tips in this post can help reduce your food costs even a little bit.